14 November 2010


This post shall show some information about tarping. It is all from my personal point of view as solo tarp user. I try to use the tarp everywhere and push it out of its intended usage boundaries. It is meant for tarp beginners to get some information about tarp usage. I missed this information when I began and had to collect it from many sources.

The material:

Tarps are typically made of silnylon or cuben.

Silnylon stretches, when wet more than when it is dry. This can lead to the failure of a tarp due to sagging, if it stretches too much during heavy rain. But the stretch also offers some advantages. In wind it can move a bit, and it is easier to pitch. However these properties depend heavily on the material used, and there are a lot of bad silnylon fabrics out there. It will also soak the water and be, depending on the material, 1.5(in my case) times heavier when wet.

Cuben fiber doesn’t stretch. Therefore you need a perfectly manufactured tarp and you have to pitch it correctly. Otherwise you will get a less then ideal pitch. Although there is a common fear that Cuben doesn’t hold up, it usually does. Failure usually comes from bad reinforcements at the tie-outs. It also doesn’t soak water, so you will carry the same weight after rain.

The Tie-outs:

There are two types of tie-outs. Many American manufacturers use a simple type of tie-out. They just fold over the edge and sew the tie-out on it. These tie-outs are not reinforced and don’t hold up. Here are some examples, the first one failed with the first use, the second one is still in use.

![Tieout of ID Siltarp 2](p1020578.jpg "Tieout of ID Siltarp 2")

The second type of tie-out is usually longer and sewn onto a reinforcement patch. These hold up pretty good and are not known to fail.

The current image is not that good, would be great if someone could provide me a better image.


The amount of tie-outs on your tarp depend on your intended use. Usually tarps ship with 3 tie-outs on each side. This is not enough for proper wind handling. On a 2,7m side you should have 4-5 tie-outs. The force of the wind is distributed on the tie-outs. The more tie-outs you have the lower the force on each tie-out and stake. Another advantage is that there the panels of fabric get smaller and therefore the wind can’t catch that much fabric. I have given 4-5 because 4 are enough but with 5 you can choose to just stake out 3 of the 5 tie-outs.

The shape:

The simplest shape is the rectangle. There are many, many, many different forms to pitch a rectangular tarp. Experimenting with this is a lot of fun. However if you have a lot of wind you need a really good pitch. The wind catches every fold and therefore there is much more stress on the fabric. And with a rectangular tarp you usually have some folds.

The best shape to save weight is a trapezoid shape. The foot part is smaller than the head part which saves a lot of material. However with this shape the pitching options get greatly reduced.

To get rid of spin-drift from the front and end there exist tarps which have beaks. Beaks are simple triangular pieces which add protection to the front and foot area. It is common to only have a beak to the front/head side because usually almost no rain finds it way through the foot side. A beak at the front side is very useful. Especially when you need to change your closes on a rainy morning this is a lot of space you will appreciate. But they are not necessary. The following image shows the big front beak of a hexamid clone:


Catenary cuts(catlines) reduce folds in the tarp and therefore increase wind stability. They resemble the shape of a hanging chain which is the same shape the material will have. Therefore the amount of material is reduced(lighter!) and the amount of folds is increased. But you have almost none pitching options with a catline tarp. You can pitch it higher or lower but always in the same style. But for serious wind usage you should go for a catline tarp. The following image shows the catline of a golite shangrila 2 which would fail without this catline.



There are 2-3 knots you need for pitching a tarp.

The first is the taut-line-hitch(Topsegelschotsteg in German).

This knot is adjustable and therefore used for guy-lines. However some guy-lines are very stiff and the knot will not hold with them. In that case you have to go back to line tensioners again.

You start with a loop:


Make a simple knot by wrapping the end around the loop.


Wrap it a second time.


Pull it over the loop.


Make a simple knot before the loop.




I also use this knot to secure the guy-lines while packing the tarp:

![](p1020588.jpg) ![](p1020589.jpg)

The second knot is the clove-hitch(Webleinsteg in German) which is used to secure the stakes.

You make a loop, while the line going to the right is below the line going to the left.


You make the same loop again, right of the last one.


Then you put the right loop above the left loop.


And pull on both ends to finish it.

![](p1020603.jpg) ![](p1020604.jpg)

The third knot is the simple knot you know, but in the quick-release version.

Make a simple knot.


Make a second knot, but pull a loop instead of the working end through the opening.

![](p1020606.jpg) ![](p1020607.jpg)

You can release it by pulling on the working end of the loop.


I usually use a combination of stakes. For shorter trips in forest areas I carry only titanium shepherd stakes at 6g per piece. For longer trips where I need a bigger security margin I also take 6 Y/V stakes for the front ant back tie-outs. But I have to admit that I didn’t yet need these 6 y/v stakes. Stones and bushes always helped me out. If you use these tiny shepherd stakes above treeline, you should place rocks on them so they don’t turn or get pulled out. If there are plants around you, use them! They are great stakes. I currently faced 3 different types of soil. Above treeline in Lapland I had very stony soil with small bushes. This was ideal as the stakes had great hold and I could secure them with stones or directly pitch to bushes. In Scotland I had no stony soil and the small stakes didn’t hold that well. There bushes and stones were my friends again. In mild climate forests I often have very soft soil in which the small stakes don’t hold. There I usually dig a bit until I come to the real ground(usually about 10cm). Then the stakes hold. If I have bigger issues I use some branches to get bigger stakes(but this is really rare).


There are many pitching options of  a tarp, but I will only mention 3 here.

The Lean-To is a basic shape where one side is down and faces to the wind while the other is high to offer a lot of space. This pitch is possible with almost all kind of tarps, it is not restricted to rectangular tarps.

![](cimg7246.jpg) ![](cimg7245.jpg)

The pyramid is restricted to rectangular tarps. It is similar to  the lean to, but the two outer sides are pulled down and only one pole is used in the center tie-out. With this shape you have got great protection from 3 sides and poor protection from one side. If the rain goes straight down you will have spin drift and need a bivy. But it is a side sleeper pitch which is very comfortable.

![](p1020282.jpg) ![](p1020283.jpg) ![](p1020285.jpg) ![](p1020286.jpg)

The A frame is my favorite shape. It is well fit for bad weather and offers good protection. You pull the long sides of your tarp to the ground, or above for more ventilation. You put your poles in the center tie-out of the foot and head side. The foot side should always be low and point towards the wind. This ensures well ventilation and almost reduces any condensation(if there is wind of course). I pitch the head as high as 1.1m in good weather. If the rain and wind gets stronger I adjust down to 0.9m or even lower. Adjustable trekking poles really play there strengths out here :). With a silnylon tarp you can reduce the sagging by increasing the height with the trekking pole without the need to get out of the tarp and re-pitch it.

![](cimg7260.jpg) ![](../sauerland-201005/p1010452.jpg) ![](../sauerland-201005/p1010490.jpg) ![](../lapland-2010-images/p1010891.jpg)


Guy-lines should be light and strong, but not stiff as you want to make knots. I use dyneema core surrounded by a polyester outer, with a strength of  2.5mm. The choice of guy-lines is very dependent on you personal style. They add up a lot to the weight of your tarp. You should always go for a good core material(spectra, dyneema) and a knot-able outer coating(polyester).

As for the length I use 1.2-1.5m(depending on tarp width/pitch height) for the side-guy-outs and 3m for the ridge guy outs.


As a tarp doesn’t have a floor you need a groundsheet to protect your stuff from the dirty and wet ground. Avoid using coated fabrics like common tent floor(90-120g PU Nylon) or even silnylon. They tent to get wet and store the water and on pressure points the water will get through, slowly.

Use a complete plastic material. Good choices are polycro and hard-tyvek(50g/m²). My current favorite is the tube you use for roasting meat(oven bag). This material is very resistant to abrasion, cheap, puncture resistant, light and fully waterproof. It weighs 21g/m². However it only comes at widths of 60cm, so you have to combine two tubes.

Bad choices are painters cover and trash bags as they don’t hold up.


It is quite common to use a bivy bag with a tarp. The bivy bag will protected you from mosquitoes, wind and spindrift. It is the "inner tent" of a tarp. It should not be water-proof-breathable but only water resistant, otherwise you will ruin your down sleeping bag. I still have to take  a photo of my bivy bag :(

Some people still take a water-proof-breathable bivy bag for usage without a tarp. For me this is an emergency situation. For this case I prefer the usage of a VBL and the tarp. I put on the VBL and use the Tarp is waterproof bivy bag. With this method my sleeping bag stays dry and I’m perfectly secure.

Good bivy bags have a pertex or momentum outer and a waterproof bottom.  Some people even leave the groundsheet at home if they use a bivy bag. I still like my groundsheet, as it protects the bivy, too.

Prejudices to clarify:

**A tarp is lighter then a tent:**

This is only partly true as that summary shows:

300g silnylon solo tarp(with sealed seams), cuben is lighter, but I compare to silnylon tents and not cuben tents.

72g(12*6) titanium stakes

55g ground sheet

200g bivy bag

74g (21m) guylines

This is a total of 701g for a solo setup. A light tent comes at ~820g, so you’ll save about 100g and have to adjust your comfort zone.

**A tarp has less condensation:**

This is totally true if you pitch correctly, but if you pitch your tarp wrong and it sags you will get condensation.

**A tarp is not fitted for usage above treeline:**

This depends on the amount and type of stakes, guying points, soil, the place where you pitch, how you pitch, the wind directions and the construction of your tarp. If you have some y stakes, stones on your stakes, soil, with stones,  5 guying points on each side of your tarp, a sheltered place, a lower/upper A frame as pitch, a catenary ridge line, a wind that comes mostly from one side, perfect reinforced construction of guying points, then just say: "Welcome hell, I’m prepared".

Why I use tarps:

I use tarps, because I like them. Their open style put you directly in the elements you face. On my trips I don’t have condensation so my gear stays dry. I can adjust, when it rains I use the tarp, when it doesn’t rain, I use the bivy. When I’m in a shelter, I use the bivy. I can put the wet tarp and groundsheet away from the dry bivy, preferable in the outer pockets of my pack. And it is simply great to see the rain coming down in front of an awesome landscape just 30cm in front of your head and be perfectly sheltered :)

I think I have mentioned all the important stuff, however this article may get updated in the future. After the coming winter I will add another post about winter usage of a tarp.

For further information I strongly recommend reading Collin Ibbotsons article about tarps: <a title="http://www.andyhowell.info/Colin-Ibbotson/Colin-Talks-Tarps.pdf" href="http://www.andyhowell.info/Colin-Ibbotson/Colin-Talks-Tarps.pdf">http://www.andyhowell.info/Colin-Ibbotson/Colin-Talks-Tarps.pdf</a>;